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Early graduation program clears extra hurdle, heads to governor’s desk

Early graduation program clears extra hurdle, heads to governor’s desk

Dustin Hurst
March 23, 2012
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March 23, 2012

The Idaho House had already agreed to approve a plan created by Emmett Republican Rep. Steve Thayn to help students graduate early from high school and gain college credit, but after the Senate amended the measure and added more detail last week, representatives needed to act on it again.

The second time, the bill got a similar result. House members voted 59-6 Friday to approve the program, sending it to Gov. Butch Otter’s desk. The bill cleared the House Feb. 9 on a 58-12 vote.

The program, dubbed “8 in 6” by Thayn, would allow students, starting in their seventh-grade year, to take extra online or summer courses to get ahead in school work. The state would partially fund the courses as long as the students perform well. If students fail or do not complete the work, they would be forced to pay for and pass one extra class to re-enter the program.

Students completing their regular and extra workloads would earn their high school diploma just prior to the start of what is traditionally thought of as the start of a student’s junior year. After receiving that, students would then be required to enroll in dual enrollment courses, or college classes offered in Idaho high schools.

Thayn envisions students leaving high school with a diploma and an associate’s degree, which he believes will only add to the number of Idahoans who receive a four-year degree.

The plan dovetails somewhat with last’s year’s education reform bills, which mandate the state pay for dual enrollment classes for high school seniors each year. Next year, that expense will cost nearly $850,000.

The main change in the bill is the funding mechanism. Prior to amendment, the bill required the state to pay $225 per each extra course a student takes while enrolled in the program. The online courses would be offered through the Idaho Digital Learning Academy (IDLA), funding for which had been up in the air for most of the legislative session.

Eventually, the budget committee gave IDLA a $5 million appropriation for next year, but that’s likely the last time the organization will receive state funds as it seeks self-sufficiency.

When the state appropriation for IDLA ends, the 8 in 6 program will then mandate the state to pay $225 per course for students enrolled in the program. Students will have to pay $75 per course.

After funding dries up in fiscal year 2014, it’s expected that the state will pay for more than 10,000 online courses through IDLA, requiring $2.5 million in state money that year. Only 10 percent of the students statewide could take part in the program, though Thayn hopes to expand that number if the plan proves effective.

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